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AMD's FreeSync 2 makes cutting-edge HDR monitors even more glorious

Brad Chacos | Jan. 4, 2017
All about the pixels.

AMD’s FreeSync technology—like Nvidia’s G-Sync—was created to smooth out gameplay and eliminate stutter and tearing by synchronizing the refresh rate of your graphics card and your monitor. Now that the technology’s spread to 20 different monitor vendors and over 120 various displays, AMD’s unleashing the aptly named FreeSync 2 to eradicate even more gaming-related headaches—though it’s going to be a cousin, not a successor, to FreeSync itself when the technology rolls out later in 2017.

FreeSync 2 primarily exists to coax the best picture and lowest lag possible out of those drop-dead gorgeous HDR PC monitors that seem poised to make an explosive debut at CES 2017. Rendering high dynamic range visuals is typically a multi-step process behind the scenes. First, the game performs color tone mapping after the engine renders a scene. Then, when the image is passed to the monitor, it’s tone-mapped yet again to fit the display’s supported range.

AMD’s FreeSync 2 API provides the game with the native characteristics of your monitor, which allows it to match your screen’s properties during the game’s initial tone mapping. That eliminates the need for a second pass, and hence, provides the best image possible while also eliminating lag. Win-Win!

freesync 2 vs standard  

How an HDR image is rendered on a standard HDR display (top) vs. on a FreeSync 2 display (bottom).

FreeSync 2 also ensures your game looks as glorious as possible by automatically switching to a “FreeSync mode” that jacks the brightness level and enforces the maximum color space when you boot up a game that supports the technology. The standard Windows desktop can look janky with everything cranked on HDR-quality screens, however, so once you exit the game, the monitor reverts to your preset display configurations (typically sRGB). AMD wants all of FreeSync 2’s features to be as plug-and-play as they can be.

Fancy-schmancy HDR features aren’t all that you’ll find in FreeSync 2. One of the claims to fame for Nvidia’s G-Sync is that it supports any frame rate, not just a limited selection. FreeSync’s benefits, on the other hand, only work between specified frame rates (30Hz to 75Hz, for example) that vary from monitor to monitor. Late in 2015, AMD rolled out “low framerate compensation” technology that keeps things silky-smooth when your gameplay dips below a display's supported FreeSync range. Alas, in keeping with the “free and open” FreeSync ethos, LFC is not required in standard FreeSync panels. It’s extra.

That sucks, and it’s not changing for basic FreeSync displays. But LFC is a mandatory requirement for FreeSync 2 certification, along with required low latency levels and a minimum allowed dynamic color and brightness range that’s twice as vibrant as standard sRGB displays. That’s in addition to the goodies in base-level FreeSync, including the new features recently introduced in Radeon Crimson ReLive to help bring the technology’s core feature set closer to parity with G-Sync.

 

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